Among our great treasures of the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs is a group of 82 drawings and 84 prints as well as a few illustrated books by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880 – 1938), the co-founder of the artists’ group Brücke. This remarkable body of work encompasses all periods of the artist’s work and many of the subjects that were important to him: metropolitan life, dance as well as landscapes on the island of Fehmarn and in the Alps. Kirchner’s prints are almost as rare as his drawings. Many were not produced in editions, but exist only in a few hand-pulled impressions.
In 2018, to mark the 80th anniversary of the death of the artist, the Kirchner holdings, last shown in their entirety in 1980, are the subject of our major exhibition that is accompanied by a catalogue of the collection.
In 1937, all the Kirchner prints held by us – many of them acquired in the 1920s – were seized as part of the infamous Nazi campaign against »degenerate« art. The foundations for the current Kirchner collection were laid after the Second World War and rest primarily on a group of 143 drawings and prints that entered our holdings in 1957 with the provenance »Collection Dr. Gervais, Zürich/Lyon«. The identity of the collector was long unknown. Our Research has since revealed that all the works came from the estate of the artist or that of his wife, Erna Kirchner (1884 – 1945), and that the »Gervais Collection« was an invention of the Kirchner pupil Christian Laely (1913 – 1992) that made it possible to circumvent the asset freeze and to continue selling works to collectors in Germany.
Complementing the large exhibition, Graphik Kabinett is showing a display of drawings and prints by the other members of the Brücke group, which Kirchner had co-founded in 1905. The cabinet exhibition »Kirchner and the Artists’ ›Group Brücke‹« presents drawings, woodcuts, etchings and lithographs by Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Fritz Bleyl, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Otto Mueller.